Word of the Week: Ecclesie What?

Jeff Needleman, New Beginnings Church

If we take the time, really take the time to reflect, then often enough the question will arise: are we just going thought the motions of life with the reality being that in the end, it’s just a waste of time and energy?

We question the reason for our existence, and whether or not our lives have any value! We ask the age old question: “Why am I alive?” As well, I have noticed over the years that we while we seem to have so much, most people are discontent… nobody is happy. Something (or someone!) is missing!

We shouldn’t underplay the importance of this question- it can be life changing, even though we so often struggle with the answer. We’ll always wonder about the meaning and purpose of our lives.

We all want to know that our life has significance, that our existence really matters… I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that we all need to know the answer, and that in actuality, the knowledge that our lives matter and make a difference comes in our relationship with God! Before you tune out… hear me out!

Now we are by no means the first to ponder these thoughts. 3,500 years ago, Job asked the question in : Job 3:11 NLT “Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb? Meanwhile, 1,000 years later, Jeremiah the prophet asked in: Jeremiah 20:18 NLT Why was I ever born? My entire life has been filled with trouble, sorrow, and shame.

About a century earlier, Isaiah said in Isaiah 49:4 NLT… “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. This dejected trio needs to take some happy pills, their words are all rather depressing. But wait till you hear what King Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes!

Solomon was poised for greatness and achieved legendary fame for both his wisdom and wealth. But he forgot the purpose God had set for him. He began to trust his own wisdom instead of God’s, and idolatry slipped in through his hundreds of foreign wives and concubines.

Ecclesiastes takes its name from the Greek meaning “caller of an assembly.” It’s Hebrew name, Qoheleth means “preacher”. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon preaches of his wrestling with the questions and reflections of the meaning of life, his failure to attain personal fulfillment from achievements, materialism, alcohol, pleasure, and wisdom. Remember he had it all, and sadly that included discontent.
His conclusion? All actions of humankind are inherently “hebel”, which is Hebrew for “vain”, “futile”, “temporary”, “empty”, “transitory”, “fleeting”, ” or “meaningless”. All of life is “meaningless”. He uses that word 30 times in 12 short chapters. Let’s read a little:

Ecclesiastes 1:2-8 NLT “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!” What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles.

7 Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.

Ecclesiastes’ main theme seems to be humanity’s fruitless search for contentment that can’t be found in human endeavors or material things, while wisdom and knowledge are meaningless and leave the real questions unanswered. Let me read you just 4 more of Solomon’s meaninglesses (sic) in Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes 1:14 NLT I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind. 2:17 So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind. 6:12 NLT In the few days of our meaningless lives, who knows how our days can best be spent? “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless.”

Can’t you just hear Solomon’s voice sound like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh? The book of Ecclesiastes seems to be such a depressing testimony that warns us that life is dismally pointless, so dire and futile that one would almost want to commit suicide… [Eeyore says: Thanks for listening]. But Solomon’s point, his exhortation, is that true happiness and meaning can only be found in God. There is our hope!

He writes in verse 12:13 NLT That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. The Amplified, another Bible version, makes it a bit clearer: 12:13 AMP All has been heard; the end of the matter is: Fear God-[revere and worship Him, knowing that He is] [REAL] and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man [the full, original purpose of his creation, the object of God’s providence, the root of character, the foundation of all happiness, the adjustment to all inharmonious circumstances and conditions under the sun] and the whole duty for every man.

St. Augustine of Hippo, a 3rd Century Theologian and Philosopher, who had a profound effect on Christianity said: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” In Basic English this means “because God has made us for Himself, our lives are unfulfilled until we find Him.” We find our purpose in fulfilling the purpose that God has set for us!

The book of Ecclesiastes is still urgently relevant for us today! The bottom line is if we are to find true and lasting purpose in and for our lives, we must first seek God and place our long-term trust in Him! Trust is the hard one though, isn’t it? Which brings us to an old hymn…”It Is Well With My Soul”. There’s a story behind this old beloved hymn about Horatio Spafford II, the writer who penned the words to the song.

Some of you may know a portion of Spafford’s story, but I recently learned the rest of the story from a message by Dr. David Jeremiah. He caught my attention by saying that if you love bread, don’t go to Israel during Passover!

But if you are in Israel during Passover, and have to have bread, (in other words, Hi, I’m Jeff and I’m a bread addict), about the only location you’ll be able to find it is the American Colony Hotel and Restaurant founded by Spafford. That’s where he discovered the rest of the story!

Spafford grew up wealthy, and like Solomon, was poised for greatness. He was a prosperous lawyer in 19th Century Chicago, a devoted husband and father, an active Christian. A serious Bible student, he strived to obey its teachings and lived out his faith by being active in evangelism and Christian ministry; a true a man of God!

Spafford, more than most, faced what many would consider the unfairness, the inequities and futility of life. He invested heavily in real estate, but his fortune literally went up in smoke in the Great Chicago fire of 1871. Yet, rather than feeling sorry for himself and hoarding what remained, he and his family reached out to others; they assisted the homeless, fed the hungry, and comforted the grief-stricken in the name of the Lord.

After two years of ceaseless work rebuilding Chicago, their family doctor urged a much needed rest for Spafford for reasons of health. So, Spafford planned a family vacation, but at the last moment needed to send his wife Anna and his four daughters on ahead while he finished up some business.

On Nov. 21, 1873, the ocean liner carrying the Spaffords collided with another vessel and sank in less than 20 minutes. An unconscious Anna was rescued, but their four children perished. She would later relate that utter and complete despair encompassed her.

As they sailed to safety, fellow survivors kept a watchful eye on her, fearful that she might take her own life. To one she said, “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why.”

Mrs. Spafford related that at some point a voice spoke softly to her soul, saying, “You were spared for a purpose!” She then recalled the words of a friend, “It’s easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.”

When the 47 survivors landed, she cabled her husband. It begins, ‘Saved…alone. What shall I do?” Horatio immediately booked passage to join his wife. En route, the captain informed him that they were passing over the place where his daughters had died.

It was here that Spafford said to himself, ‘It is well; the will of God be done”, and then penned the lyrics to “It Is Well With My Soul”. You may find all the lyrics at the end of the article.

Now for the rest of the story! The Spaffords resumed life in Chicago and were blessed with three more children, but tragically lost another child when Horatio Spafford III died of scarlet fever at the age of four.

Now this may send you over the edge, it did me. The Spafford’s church took the view that these tragedies were surely a result of sin in the family and asked them to leave because of their unknown transgressions.

Now, it’s hard to comprehend this type of behavior in what is supposed to be a loving and accepting church family! How could a church be that cruel to someone who needed them? They left. But, even in the midst of the most difficult events, God has a purpose, and is working and caring for the needs of the many!

In 1881, the Spaffords chose to begin a new life. They settled in Jerusalem, in a house later to be known as the “American Colony.” In spite of the tragedies bestowed on them, their simple mission was to show the love of Jesus in their daily living by serving the needs of the poor, afflicted and outcast. They soon become widely known for their devotion to God, the Scriptures, and service to the needy.

The Spafford Children’s Center still exists today, and is still administered by members of the Spafford family. It provides health care and educational support and resources to 30,000 children every year. That’s 170 percent of the population of Fernley… every year! This was a result of the Spafford family’s tragedies; out of the ashes of their sorrows, God raised up a work of almost unimaginable magnitude.

Blessings,
Jeff

Jeff Needleman
Lead Pastor
New Beginnings Church

www.NewBeginningsFernley.org

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well, With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts. The second part will explore the vital lesson that we can trust God deeply and completely.

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